EU Ban on Seal Products
The EU ban on seal products was implemented in 2010 on the notion that it had caused pain and distress to the animals. Regulations of the European Union ("EU Seal Regime") generally prohibiting the importation and placing on the market of seal products, with certain exceptions, including for seal products derived from hunts conducted by Inuit or indigenous communities (IC exception) and hunts conducted for marine resource management purposes (MRM exception).
Canada and Norway filed a complaint before the WTO seeking to overturn the ban, but the ruling supported the ban.
Seal hunting occurs in various parts of the world for commercial, subsistence and cultural reasons. Seal hunting is also carried out in some areas for the sustainable management of marine resources. At least 15 seal species are currently hunted, but the majority of hunted animals belong to five species: harp seals, ringed seals, grey seals, hooded seals and cape fur seals. The seal populations that are hunted for commercial purposes – an estimated 15 million animals – are generally not endangered. Some 900,000 seals are hunted each year around the globe, with the commercial hunt in Canada, Greenland and Namibia accounting for some 60% of the seals killed each year. Hunting for commercial purposes also takes place in Russia and Norway. Around one third of the world trade in seal products either passes through or ends up in the EU market. Seal hunts around the world are governed by different rules and regulations. In some countries comprehensive systems are in place, while in others the seal hunt is regulated to a lesser degree. Within the EU, certain methods and means of capture and killing are prohibited in areas protected under EU nature law (i.e. the Habitats Directive).
As a result of the ban, Canada and Norway filed a complaint with the Dispute Settlement Body of the WTO against the European Communities claiming that the European Communities were being discriminatory against their producers of seal products. Both Canada and Norway are insistent on the fact that the seals are killed in an ethical manner and argued that ruling would potentially set a dangerous precedent going forward because it was based on morality and not science. Canada also argued that the Canadian government places strict regulation on their seal hunt industry, enforcing a quota to not allow any more than 400,000 seals be hunted in a given year. It is believed that only approximately 55,000 seals have been hunted through 2014.
Product at issue
Products that are either processed or unprocessed, deriving or obtained from seals.
Ruling and reaction
The WTO ruled in favour of the EU Seal regime and Canada and Norway filed for an appeal.
The Dispute Settlement Body appellate committee upheld the initial ruling issued. The decision reached by the WTO appellate will only spark more debates as to determine how such a controversial ban can be implemented when it had upheld some of its prior rulings while overturning others. They upheld the initial findings of the committee that the EU Seal Regime was in violation of the most-favored nation status of the GATT agreement. This is because the Seal Regime did not immediately allow access to the same market advantage to Canada and Norway as it did with Greenland. The appellate body upheld the panel's findings that the EU Seal Regime was "necessary to protect public morals" . Ross Lord reported that the WTO had found that despite the fact that the ban had been discriminatory towards Canadian and Norway as compared to the European seal hunting producers yet it had fulfilled the objective of addressing the EU's public moral concerns on seal welfare. The IFAW was very happy with the ruling, stating that it was a "great day for seals". Sheryl Fink, IFAW's wildlife campaigns director, blasted what she called "the desperate, last-ditch effort" to have the ban overturned. "The ruling confirms yet again that animal welfare concerns are a legitimate reason for WTO members to regulate trade, and that the EU is justified in banning the importation and sale of products from cruel commercial hunting of seals," Fink said.
- Chappell, Bill. "Canada Loses Fight Against EU Ban on Seal Products". NPR.
- "Trade in Seal Products". European Commission. European Commission.
- "European Communities – Measures Prohibiting the Importation and Marketing of Seal Products". World Trade Organization. World Trade Organization.
- Goldenberg, Suzanne. "World Trade Organisation upholds EU ban on imported seal products". The Guardian.
- "EU seal product ban upheld in WTO appeal". CBC News.
- Lord, Ross. "EU's Seal Ban Upheld". Global News. Global News.